“What you don’t know won’t hurt you” is an old idiom that many of us have heard over the years. It essentially means that if you do not know about a problem or a misdeed, you do not have to worry about it, feel responsible for it, or get upset about it. In essence, if we can’t see it, can’t feel it, can’t hear it, or can’t touch it, then it won’t hurt us. The unknown becomes our safe haven as we choose not to engage that which is powerfully present.
And yet, at the dawning of this new decade, who would have thought that we would be faced with this unknown force called COVID-19? This invisible force is something that we cannot make tangible with our senses but it is changing the way we do life. It is changing people.
Far from getting us down, COVID-19 seems to be bringing out our best creativity, our innovative edge. And despite fears and deaths and dangers, the grief and the sadness of losing friends and family, those with a voice keep on singing with hopes that this crisis will soon be over. But for many, whose voice is very small and whose song sings a tune of innocence and meekness, COVID-19 has initialized a very dark tenor. It is a level of detriment brought forth in the form of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE’s).
ACE’s are traumatic events occurring before age 18 that include all types of abuse and neglect as well as parental mental illness, substance use, divorce, incarceration, and domestic violence. The impacts of these events are often carried into adulthood and lead to generations upon generations of negative outcomes. Thus, in the aftermath of this crisis, we will be in need of creative educational approaches toward healing as children and youth are faced with food insecurity while witnessing the turmoil of parents faced with unemployment and cut wages. In addition to that, no one will be able to predict the potential physical and emotional abuse experienced by children and adults as they have traditionally sought solace behind the walls of schools, churches, and the workplace. When this pandemic is over, these people will walk into our schools and places of worship forever changed and we will be challenged to move beyond our safe havens and engage what we once thought was better to be left unknown.
As Christian educators, what do we do? As we await the end of this crisis, we must prepare ourselves to enter into a learning journey that Charles Eisenstein calls “the space between stories.” It is the journey that encourages a shift from conversations about trauma informed care to healing centered engagement. According to Shawn Ginwright (2018), healing centered engagement is culturally grounded and views healing as a restoration of identity. It is “akin to the South African term “Ubuntu” meaning that humanness is found through our interdependence, collective engagement and service to others. Additionally, healing centered engagement offers an asset driven approach aimed at the holistic restoration of young peoples’ well-being.” This type of engagement allows us to co-create through crisis and navigate the transition from an old story, to the space between stories, to a new story through the resource of relationship, informal systems of learning, critical reflection and perspective transformation.
Healing Centered Engagement only happens in crisis and grants the opportunity for us to facilitate unique spaces for connection and holy presence where stories can be engaged as a tool for learning. This is the space in which we recognize that empathy is not enough to hold all of the pain and empowerment becomes another catch all phrase for temporary enlightenment. It is at this place that we recognize that healing comes through an educational process of engagement in which we learn not only to tell the story but to courageously use our stories in ways that render transformative outcomes. This is educational ministry at its best as it revives in us a sense of sacred newness in our ability not just to survive but to thrive, even under the most challenging conditions.
I imagine this same feeling of new energy, creativity, and challenge must have also flowed through the veins of Jesus’ disciples in the aftermath of his death. After all of the turmoil and trauma witnessed at Jesus’s death, they also witnessed the newness of His resurrection and the power that lay within the scars in his hands, feet, and side. Scars usually represent the memory of a trauma, but the scars in the hands of Jesus represented far more. That is, they were God’s idea to begin with! The same scars that represented shame and defeat on the cross, now represented power. The same nails that had been driven into their hope for the future were now conduits of renewed aspiration. What the disciples did not know was that these scars served as a learning tool, a form of tacit knowledge, as the disciples could now see, feel, hear, and touch that which was powerfully present. If God had chosen to resurrect Jesus without the scars or if Jesus chose to hide the scars that reminded him of His dreaded, undeserved suffering on the cross, the disciples would have never known Jesus in His new identity as Jesus the Christ. Thus, the revelation of Jesus’ scars brought about new ways of knowing and being. Engaging the scars that represented trauma, disgrace and shame has now given the disciples restored identity! As educators, we now have the power, through informal systems of learning, to skillfully engage the stories behind the scars that lie in the hands of young people. Like Jesus, their scars have a lot to say. They command a blessing to all of us of the treasure of restored identity.
As we are challenged in this crisis, let us also be prepared to engage the scars reaped from this crisis. This shift in engagement represents the “new normal” in Christian education as we facilitate innovative approaches to healing centered engagement and well-being.
 Adapted from resources retrieved from: https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/his-scars-will-never-fade.
Cynthia Parnell McDonald, Ph.D; Pastor, St. Luke African Methodist Episcopal Church/Carterville, GA and Mental Health Chaplain, Emory University Hospital Wesley Woods and Hope4CE Steering Committee member